All About Ube + Ways To Use It In Recipes

Ube can be used in savory dishes, too.

IMAGE Roselle Miranda

Do you have childhood memories of eating halo-halo with shaved ice with ube halaya on top with a slice of leche flan and sometimes even a scoop of ice cream? What about family trips to Baguio, when the pasalubong always included bottles of the famous ube jam from the convent sisters? If you remember these events with fond memories of the creamy purple stuff being your favorite part, you're obviously an ube lover.

Ube halaya or ube jam is a beloved spread that can be eaten as is or used as the filling for our pandesal purchased from the neighborhood bakery. Who can forget the ube cheese pandesal trends a few years ago? The version with stuffed ube jam was extra good! 

Simply said, we all have tried ube but you may have taken it for granted because, after all, it is organic to the Philippines. That may be what leads many people who have never seen real ube to think that kamote or purple sweet potatoes are ube. Ube, or internationally known as purple yam, is different from the violet kamote.

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Photo by Roselle Miranda
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What is ube?

Just to be clear, yams are not sweet potatoes and sweet potatoes are not yams. Scientifically, the sweet potato is in a different plant family from yams and actually looks quite different from each other.

Ube looks like an uprooted tree root and has the appearance of bark. It's rough to the touch and even after brushing and washing off the mud and dirt, the skin is dark and actually very thin. Underneath this thin skin is the highly pigmented purple color of the ube. The kamote on the other hand has smooth skin that when brushed and washed off of the dirt, reveals a dark purple-red skin. It's this color that many mistakenly assume is the purple of the ube.

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So, while you and other people may think that the purple sweet potato or kamote looks, tastes, and even feels like ube, it isn't.

What does ube taste like? 

You might be surprised but ube tastes very earthy. It has a stronger taste of the earth that it covers up the neutral flavor of the tuber. This makes it very easy to make creamy, buttery, and sweet when made into ube jam. However, ube is not just for desserts but it can also be used for savory dishes if you don't mind the dish turning purple since ube easily stains. 

Is ube healthy?

In terms of nutrition, ube is comparable to sweet potatoes. "It is a complex carbohydrate, therefore it will have good fiber," says Women's Health. The majority of diets require more fiber. Furthermore, it is high in B vitamins, such as thiamine and niacin.

According to USDA Nutrient Database, 100 grams of ube contains these nutrients:

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  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 27 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Sodium: 10 mg

Additional nutrients include 12 milligrams of vitamin C (which is 16 percent of the recommended daily allowance for women), as well as trace levels of calcium, iron, and vitamin A. The purple color of ube indicates a high concentration of anthocyanin antioxidants. Anthocyanins give berries and ube their bright red and purple colors but it also is said to combat inflammation, too. 

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How To Use Ube In Recipes

Ube as a dessert has been well exploited. Creative Pinoy bakers have used it for many desserts, and it can even replace kamote in a few ways. If you need a recipe for ube but are on a certain diet that needs to be low on carbs, this ube recipe is a dessert you can try. If you're fond of the pairing of leche flan and ube, you can top an ube cupcake with a solid slice of leche flan instead of frosting to get your fix. Finally, if sharing is your love language, making an ube cake paired with the classic pairing of macapuno is the way to go.

If dessert is not how you want to use ube, here are other creative ube uses to try:

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1 Bake ube like a regular potato or sweet potato.

Use ube as your source of carbohydrates as you would a potato or sweet potatoes. The secret is to bake it for a more extended period than other tubers at a moderate temperature (approximately 90 to 120 minutes at 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C). At this point, it becomes moist and delicious. You can also mash it and combine it with regular potato serving it in whirls or scoops to highlight the color contrast. Your baked vegetable medley as a side dish can include ube along with the potatoes and carrots.

2 Turn ube into a puree. 

If you use pumpkin or kalabasa in dishes, you can use ube in the same way. Why not try making a puree of ube to create a grain-free congee? 

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3 Make ube into chips. 

Yes, ube can be converted into chips like potatoes or sweet potatoes can be. Crispy and wonderful. Use an air fryer to avoid using excess oil and make it more diet-friendly. 

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4 Use ube like taro or gabi.

Just like sweet potatoes is not ube, the purple taro or gabi is not ube either but these ingredients can be interchanged if you are willing to try. The next time you make sinigang, try using ube to replace gabi to color the broth! Your family might get a kick at the unusual-looking but still super tasty soup! 

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Be creative; since ube is indigenous to the Philippines, explore other ways to make it. Let us celebrate ube and the attention it continues to gain locally and internationally.

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